When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” ~ Matthew 11:2–11
Today’s passage, like the one from December 8, gives us insight into John the Baptist and who he thought Jesus to be. As we discussed in the last entry, John thought Jesus was going to bring deliverance with retributive judgment and wrath. Jesus, however, had a different approach, which he lends clues to in how he responds to John’s disciples. When he answers the question “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” he does so, not by giving a yes or no answer, but by quoting various passages from Isaiah, as well as 1 and 2 Kings (Isa 29:18; 35:5, 6; 61:1–2; 1 Kgs 17:17–34; 2 Kgs 5). What is interesting to note is that all of these passages have associated vengeance texts surrounding the verses Jesus quotes, yet none are referenced by Christ. For instance, when he quotes Isaiah 61:1–2, he leaves off the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.” When he quotes Isaiah 29:18, he leaves off the phrase “for the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be, all those alert to do evil shall be cut off.” And so on and so forth with the passages from Isaiah 35:5, 6, 1 Kings 17:17–34 and 2 Kings 5.
It is this type of messiahship that confounds John and those who thought like him. Again, much of what was expected by the messiah involved divine wrath and retribution. For many, the messiah was going to come in like a Davidic warrior-type. As Matthew 11:12 states, the kingdom of God had been taken over by violence, and it was going to be with violence that brings about perpetual peace. But no, not for Jesus.
This, mind you, was not going to be some passive messiahship, however. Sure, retribution and violence weren’t going to be Jesus’ modus operandi, but deliverance would still come. This is what Walter Wink is referring to when he says that Jesus had a “third way.” Jesus wouldn’t use violence to bring about what the kingdom of God was going to look like, but he was going to use it in order to blow apart the notion that violence works in achieving long-lasting peace.
This way of deliverance caused scandal among both Jesus’ and John’s disciples. It caused offense. But Jesus wants John’s disciples to know that those who are not offended by his words and actions will be blessed. In other words, if people chose to follow Jesus, they would be able to break free from the scandal of mimetic rivalry and the subsequent violence that inevitably comes. They would be able to follow the one who follows the non-rivalrous Father, and this would be considered a blessed way of living in and among a kingdom that had suffered violence for far too long.